On Monsters

On Monsters : An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears

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Hailed as "a feast" (Washington Post) and "a modern-day bestiary" (The New Yorker), Stephen Asma's On Monsters is a wide-ranging cultural and conceptual history of monsters-how they have evolved over time, what functions they have served for us, and what shapes they are likely to take in the future. Beginning at the time of Alexander the Great, the monsters come fast and furious-Behemoth and Leviathan, Gog and Magog, Satan and his demons, Grendel and Frankenstein, circus freaks and headless children, right up to the serial killers and terrorists of today and the post-human cyborgs of tomorrow. Monsters embody our deepest anxieties and vulnerabilities, Asma argues, but they also symbolize the mysterious and incoherent territory beyond the safe enclosures of rational thought. Exploring sources as diverse as philosophical treatises, scientific notebooks, and novels, Asma unravels traditional monster stories for the clues they offer about the inner logic of an era's fears and fascinations. In doing so, he illuminates the many ways monsters have become repositories for those human qualities that must be repudiated, externalized, and defeated. Asma suggests that how we handle monsters reflects how we handle uncertainty, ambiguity, and insecurity. And in a world that is daily becoming less secure and more ambiguous, he shows how we might learn to better live with monsters-and thereby avoid becoming one.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 368 pages
  • 154.94 x 231.14 x 25.4mm | 498.95g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 20 b/w halftones, 30 line illus.
  • 0199798095
  • 9780199798094
  • 154,812

Review quote

an erudite yet very readable monster-fest. The Guardianshow more

About Stephen T. Asma

Stephen T. Asma is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia College Chicago, where he holds the title of Distinguished Scholar.show more

Table of contents

Acknowledgments Introduction: Extraordinary Beings Part 1 - Ancient Monsters 1 Alexander Fights Monsters in India 2 Monsters Are Nature's Playthings 3 Hermaphrodites and Man-headed Oxen 4 Monstrous Desire Part 2 - Medieval Monsters: Messages from God 5 Biblical Monsters 6 Do Monsters Have Souls? 7 The Monster Killer 8 Possessing Demons and Witches Part 3 - Scientific Monsters: The Book of Nature is Riddled with Typos 9 Natural History, Freaks, and Nondescripts 10 The Medicalization of Monsters 11 Darwin's Mutants Part 4 - Inner Monsters: The Psychological Aspects 12 The Art of Human Vulnerability: Angst and Horror 13 Criminal Monsters: Psychopathology, Aggression, and the Malignant Heart Part 5 - Monsters Today and Tomorrow 14 Torturers, Terrorists, and Zombies: The Products of Monstrous Societies 15 Future Monsters: Robots, Mutants, and Posthuman Cyborgs Epilogue Notes Indexshow more